As a clinical dietitian, sodium is one of the main topics I discuss with my patients every day.  Sodium is a component of table salt, which is sodium chloride.  It is also used during the processing of many foods, which is why many processed foods are high in sodium.  Sodium helps to keep foods shelf-stable and prevents spoiling.  Salt provides flavor or enhances the flavor of foods.  Our bodies do need some sodium, at least 500 mg of sodium each day.  The recommended amount of sodium to limit is 2,300 mg per day, but less than 1,500 mg to maintain good health for most adults.  However, typically most people consume well above the minimum amount needed each day, about 3,400 mg per day!  Wow!  So, what can be the effects of too much sodium? Why do we need to know how to cut back on sodium?

 

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), sodium helps our bodies control fluid balance, send nerve impulses, and affects muscle function.  When there is too much sodium in your body, it attracts water into the bloodstream, increasing the pressure inside the blood vessel.  Over time, this stretches out the blood vessels or injures the walls of the blood vessels.  This can lead to plaque buildup inside the vessels and causes the heart to work harder to pump.  High blood pressure often doesn’t have any symptoms, which is why it is so important to go to the doctor regularly.  High blood pressure, if uncontrolled or unmanaged, can lead to kidney disease, strokes, heart attacks, or heart failure.  Ninety percent of American adults are expected to develop high blood pressure during their lifetime, according to AHA.  Sodium also causes bloating from fluid retention, leading to weight gain.


How to Cut Back on Sodium

So how do we reduce the risk of these diseases and maintain good blood pressure?

Well, let’s first start by identifying some foods that are typically known to be high in sodium.  If we know the high sodium foods, then you can cut back on these foods to reduce your sodium intake.

 

High Sodium Foods

  • Restaurant foods or fast food
  • Snack foods such as chips, pretzels, crackers
  • Canned foods and soups
  • Lunchmeats and cured meats
  • Packaged foods or prepared foods
  • Condiments such as ketchup, hot sauce, soy sauce, salad dressings

Many of these foods, however, do typically have a low or lower sodium version.  So just check for one labeled low sodium next to it on the shelf in the grocery store.


Choose Low Sodium Foods

 

Fresh foods, such as fresh fruits, vegetables, meats, and fish are naturally low in sodium.  So the more you replace the high sodium foods with fresh foods the sodium intake will decrease.  Many fresh fruits, vegetables, and seafood are also nutrient-dense!

 

Check Nutrition Labels for Sodium Content

Here are sodium-related terms you may see on food packages.  These terms are labeled on foods and can help you quickly find low or lower-sodium foods.

  • Sodium-free – Less than 5 milligrams of sodium per serving and contains no sodium chloride
  • Very low sodium – 35 milligrams or less per serving
  • Low sodium – 140 milligrams or less per serving
  • Reduced (or less) sodium – At least 25 percent less sodium per serving than the usual sodium level
  • Light (for sodium-reduced products) – If the food is “low calorie” and “low fat” and sodium is reduced by at least 50 percent per serving
  • Light in sodium – If sodium is reduced by at least 50 percent per serving

Aim to choose foods that have less than 140 mg of sodium per serving.  Anything above 300 mg of sodium per serving is considered a high sodium food.

Preparing Foods with Less Salt and Sodium

When you prepare and cook foods at home more often rather than eating restaurant foods, this can help you reduce your sodium intake.  Choose low or no-sodium seasonings such as fresh or dried herbs, spices, onions, garlic, onion or garlic powder, lemon or lime juice, and vinegar to replace all or some of the salt.  This can add a lot of flavor to your food and you won’t miss the salt.

Draining and rinsing canned beans and vegetables can reduce the sodium content by up to 40%.  But also choose fresh or frozen vegetables (without added sauces) which are low in sodium.  Also, some cooking methods bring out the flavor in foods, such as roasting, grilling, sautéing, braising, and searing.

If you are in need of some low sodium ideas for breakfast, check out Healthy Breakfast Ideas!

 


If you eat out at a restaurant…

 

There are ways to help you reduce your sodium intake when you eat out at a restaurant.

  • Ask for condiments and sauces on the side, then use just a little by dipping your utensil in the sauce with a bite of food
  • Also ask for no added salt, especially to certain foods that are typically salted such as fries
  • Look for words such as pickled, brined, cured, smoked, and barbequed which are high sodium food preparations
  • Choose foods that are steamed, baked, grilled, poached or roasted as these may have less sodium
  • Limit portions by sharing or only eating a small portion and bringing the leftovers home with you

 

Just one more thing to keep in mind…

 

If you are used to eating high sodium foods and adding salt to your food, then it will take some time for your tastes to adjust.  Food may seem to have less flavor as you decrease your sodium intake, but give it time.  Once your tastes do adjust, you really won’t miss the salt.  And when you do taste something with more salt, you will notice it!

If you found this post on how to cut back on sodium helpful, please check out How to Cut Back on Sugar

 

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Dietitian, food lover, and world traveler! Veronica has been a registered dietitian for over 18 years, specializing in clinical and community nutrition. She enjoys wellness, trying new foods, and exploring the globe to learn about different cultures.